Celebrating language development in the world’s Deaf communities

(September 2012) The World Federation of the Deaf has designated 23-29 September as International Week of the Deaf, preceding the International Day of the Deaf on 30 September. SIL’s involvement with Deaf populations is part of its long-standing advocacy for ethnolinguistic communities throughout the world.

SIL’s newly restructured Global Sign Languages Team (GSLT) reflects the value SIL places on research and language development for signed languages. Because Deafness and sign languages unite people from many different countries with a commonality deeper than geographic divisions, engaging with Deaf communities requires a different organizational structure than the regionally-based initiatives that work for spoken language communities. The GSLT is building partnerships with a number of Deaf organizations to serve Deaf communities around the world. Recent events of interest include:

  • In March, the third in a series of Multilingual Deaf Education (MLDE) workshops was held in Southeast Asia, led by a diverse international staff, including two Deaf linguists. Educators from Deaf schools across the region collaborated on curriculum development and other components of effective MLDE. More than half of the participants were from within the Deaf community.
  • To date, this year’s collection of Electronic Survey Reports includes findings from sociolinguistic survey of Deaf communities in eight countries: Ecuador, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Nepal, Northern Ireland and the Caribbean islands of Trinidad, St. Vincent and Grenada. Reports are in process for additional surveys recently conducted in Romania and Portugal.
  • Field testing of sign language dictionary software called SooSL (See Our Own Sign Language) is planned for Asia and the Pacific over the course of the next year. With this software, users can search a sign language dictionary according to the physical components of signs (handshape, movement, etc.), eliminating the need to depend on the written words of a spoken language.
  • SIL continues to build capacity for research and language development for signed languages. The annual summer program of SIL courses at the University of North Dakota has a special focus on signed languages. This year SIL-UND students had the opportunity to learn from several Deaf faculty members and take courses in which American Sign Language was the language of instruction. An MA thesis by Julia Ciupek-Reed, a 2012 graduate of the program, provides a description and analysis of a sign language survey in which she participated. Ciupek-Reed’s thesis was entitled “Participatory methods in sociolinguistic sign language survey: A case study in El Salvador.”
  • In 2011, a group of Deaf participants in an SIL-sponsored sign language development event in Korea decided that an organization was needed to support community development and language development in Deaf communities across the Asia-Pacific region. On 12 September 2012, Asia Pacific Sign Language Development Association (APSDA) was granted official status as an organization by the government of Japan.

The 16th edition of SIL's Ethnologue: Languages of the World (released in 2009) lists 130 signed languages, but the number of identified sign languages continues to climb with ongoing sociolinguistic survey of Deaf communities around the world.

Related links of interest